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Enterprise Content Management

Your guide to defining, understanding and implementing ECM.

An enterprise content management system (also known as ECM system) can significantly improve business efficiency, reduce costs and increase employee and customer satisfaction. ECM software adds measurable value to almost any department within a company: accounting, human resources, sales, legal and more can all benefit.

In this article, discover:

  • The components of an ECM system and how companies can benefit tremendously
  • Tips on successfully implementing an ECM solution
  • The clear benefits: customer service is boosted, the costs of paper and manual processes are removed, data protection and compliance are improved, and information is available to the right person, in the right moment, in any business context

Enterprise content management vendors such as DocuWare have been helping organizations embrace digital transformation and workflow automation through an ECM system for years.

What is enterprise content management (ECM)?

Modern technology terminology can be confusing, and “enterprise content management”, despite existing for decades, remains an unclear term. Let’s define it.

Enterprise content management (or ECM) digitizes, controls and automates the flow of unstructured information within a company.

“Unstructured information” describes the messy information that exists outside structured database environments. For example:

Structured Unstructured
Corporate financial records inside an ERP or finance application (like Sage or Quickbooks) Incoming invoices, packing slips or bills of lading
Employee data inside a human resources planning application (like Oracle PeopleSoft or Workday) Resumes, tax documents and certifications
Customer data inside a CRM (like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics) Emails, photographs or meeting notes

Typically, ECM systems handle the capture, reading and indexing of information to understand its context; provides opportunities to annotate, edit or improve the information; and offers robust workflow and automation tools to ensure that information gets to the right people at the right time.

This also includes the creation, management, processing and archiving of documents, all the way to the digital signature. Documents are available everywhere, and security and compliance are safeguarded. Even mobile users have access to all necessary data and multiple employees can access the same document in parallel. In addition, with robust logging and analytics capabilities, organizations have a record of who accessed, changed or removed document and when.

This also enables communication with customers and suppliers to be digitized, modernized and consequently improved. ECM ensures documents are intelligently organized and assists with their retrieval. In short, “enterprise content management” is a set of capabilities that enable an organization of any size to control and understand their body of corporate information.

What is “document management”?

A “document management system” (DMS) is a term often used interchangeably with “enterprise content management”. Regarding some features, that is OK, but it is not the whole truth.

The easiest way to think about document management is as a subset of the broader ECM capability set. Document management covers many of the core features such as capturing, indexing, archiving, automating and controlling information, but that information is typically document-centric.

A complete ECM system might manage information from web content, social media accounts, and other highly dynamic and scalable information sources that are outside the boundaries of a document. For larger organizations, this is valuable, but expensive to implement and maintain. For most organizations, document management — the majority of the ECM capability set — is exactly what they need.

It is important to note that “Enterprise Content Management” does not equate to “only large companies”. The value of ECM can be achieved in any size organization despite the slightly pejorative leading word.

What are “content services”?

In 2016, Gartner introduced the term “content services” as a replacement to the term “enterprise content management”. From Gartner:

The term "enterprise content management" no longer reflects market dynamics or the organizational needs for content in digital business. For applications leaders in charge of content management projects, this means casting aside previous notions and rethinking their technology approaches.

This new concept attempts to move the industry away from the single-system thinking of ECM to a more modular, cloud-first approach of integrated and interoperable content management components. Other analyst firms like Forrester have also adopted this terminology.

Does this change anything practically? Not really. ECM and content services are still describing the same feature and capability set, and customers will end up buying and using the same technologies either way.

The advantages and ROI of enterprise content management

Whether deployed within a single department — even a single business process — or deployed across an entire organization, the return on investment (ROI) of ECM can be very high.

Nucleus Research conducted a study on small and mid-size organizations (companies fewer than 500 people) that had adopted an enterprise content management system and found that for every dollar invested in ECM, the organizations experienced $8.55 in real-world benefits. That constitutes a 750% ROI.

Here was their summary:

Nucleus found that for small to medium businesses, investing in content management returns $8.55 in benefits per dollar spent. The key value drivers for these solutions are increased user productivity and cost savings from redeployed staff or avoided additional hires. As organizational transparency and the value of data continue to grow, companies that fail to fully leverage their own digital content will lag behind more savvy competitors.

Content Management ROI for SMBs Nucleus report


An ECM system adds value to almost every department in the organization. The benefits are seen in a variety of ways across divisions and departments, but they all have one thing in common: digital documents improve and facilitate work and reduce costs. In addition, an ECM system can ensure compliance and ensure the security of documents within the business since digital documents are much safer to store than paper. Integration into existing processes within the organization is also easier.

The implications of this new approach for documents are therefore generally similar. Within individual departments, however, there are additional synergies that offer advantages for users, departments and consequently the entire enterprise.

Digital documents are legally compliant 

Enterprise content management reduces costs, improves efficiency and simplifies business processes. These advantages cannot be repeated often enough, since their enormous potential for optimization lies dormant in many companies.

Many users of traditional documents and contracts still assume that a document only becomes legally binding if it has been signed by hand. This is no longer true in the digital age. Electronically signed documents are legally valid in many fields and there are numerous opportunities to accelerate and significantly optimize business processes. Contractual partners can find each other faster, business is done faster, time is used in optimal manner and not wasted by sending paper documents.

The trend is increasing toward electronic signatures, if only because of the ever-advancing internationalization and globalization of companies. Information must be accessible and available quickly and everywhere — including on mobile devices, of course.

Improve cash flow and invoice monitoring

In accounting, improved process handling via digital documents is reflected in higher cash flow. This is due to the fact that it still takes 30 days for payment to be remitted onto a bank account for invoices sent by regular mail. With digital invoices, this process can be shortened to days or even hours. In addition, the shipping and receipt of billing documents is easier to follow and made trackable.

Conversely, when invoices are received, digitizing and automating them can achieve discounts and rebates and avoid payment reminders. An ECM system helps with the processing, settlement, storage and archiving of incoming and outgoing invoices. This boosts the reliability of cooperation with suppliers. All processes that occur in the context of payment transactions are much more transparent and can be tracked more effectively.

Improve customer service and customer experience

Brochures, catalogs and other sales documents are often much more suitable in digital form. Besides aspects of environmental considerations, handling electronic documents is significantly simpler since they are accessible everywhere, including in the mobile sector via a smartphone and tablet.

Customers receive the documents they need to order goods faster. Business processes are accelerated, and in most cases are simplified as well. This benefits sales and other departments within the organization since more orders can be processed in less time.

In addition, electronic documents are digitally indexed and fully searchable. This allows customers and employees to find important information quicker without having to laboriously pore over catalogs. Links in electronic documents also help to locate information faster and in more targeted manner.

Finally, relationships between customers and company employees are positively impacted when working with documents through an enterprise content management system. This opens new customer service possibilities. Company employees can help customers faster and, most importantly, more effectively by sending direct links or documents instantly.

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Improve information flow between teams

One advantage electronic documents provide is significantly lower costs compared to paper documents. Opportunities to save on costs include expenses for office supplies and the storage space as well as working hours spent dealing with paper documents. Here, printing and copying costs play just as important a role as storage space and transporting documents within the business.

You must quickly locate and use documents at all times. This is where digital documents clearly demonstrate their advantage. This improves both the response time as well as the flow of information within an organization. This in turn results in much higher customer satisfaction.

Engagement with customers is more confident

The sales department often engages in extensive correspondence between the customer and seller. The documents that accrue are typically needed by several employees. If, on top of that, these individuals work in different departments, or phone support needs to provide answers to questions for the sales process, paper documents complicates things.

Approvals are issued faster

Using an enterprise content management system significantly shortens approval processes and, above all, provides process transparency for everyone involved. The ECM system logs who accesses which document and when. This is also helpful for the legal department and all other individuals involved in the process. Of course, changes to documents can also be accurately logged, including the time, location and the changes made.

Recruiting is expedited and enhanced

ECM also helps handle large volumes of job applications. Recruitment processes for new employees are handled more quickly within HR departments since application documents and employment contracts can be digitized. In addition, this also boosts a company's reputation. Applicants see an organization that is adopting modern systems and can thus better position itself against its competitors.

The components of enterprise content management

ECM is not one single technology, but rather a collection of critical features and capabilities that work together to drive secure, compliant information and document management processes.

An enterprise content management system consists of several components that handle the different stages of information management in a typical organization.

The essential capabilities of an ECM system are:

  • Capture: Importing, digitizing and extracting key data points from any source, including PDFs, email, fax, scans, native applications, and more.
  • Manage: Organizing, indexing and annotating documents to ensure they support business processes.
  • Process: Automatically routing and approving documents within the scope of a defined digital workflow to support critical business processes and compliance initiatives.
  • Collaborate: Editing in native applications in carefully version-controlled environments to maintain focus on the master version.
  • Archive: Secure, compliant archiving with retention policy options to either protect or control the destruction of certain types of information.
  • Integrate: Connect data and documents to other corporate applications through native connectors or APIs.

Non-essential components might include web content management or physical records management. However, these are not offered by all vendors as they are not the core use-case of ECM.

Depending on the provider, ECM systems are provided as various individual program modules and components combined into a suite, or as one holistic system.

Modern systems versus legacy systems

As enterprise content management is a very mature technology, many providers still sell ECM systems that have dated architecture and limited capabilities. Customers should carefully seek out systems that meet the demands of today’s office environment.

Modern ECM systems must:

  • Meet the “consumer” test
    … as easy to learn and use as the technologies in our everyday lives
  • Have a robust cloud strategy
    … even if the customer is not ready to move to the cloud
  • Help with compliance
    … including country-specific privacy and regulatory requirements
  • Go beyond capture
    … and ingest information of all sorts from any source and turn it into actionable data to drive processes
  • Expand quickly
    … and reduce professional services requirements in order to scale at the speed of modern business
  • Integrate right there
    … to do away with the “two screen” phenomenon, and easily integrate content into our core business applications
  • Secure with confidence
    … where documents and critical business information must be protected against loss and malicious attacks

Tips for successful ECM implementation

Deploying an enterprise content management system can be hugely beneficial to employees across an organization, but success comes from following established best practices. Here are key tips to consider before ECM implementation starts.

The ECM project has a much higher potential success when your company's employees recognize the potential new value and expect the implementation to improve and facilitate their work. Acceptance and adoption by employees is the ultimate goal of the deployment.

Before introducing an ECM system, the goals for the introduction of enterprise content management should be defined within the company. It may be faster invoice processing, improved customer service quality or more efficient processes in sales. Each department has different goals that employees expect ECM to meet.

Care should be taken to avoid resistance by employees. The following points will help you achieve this:

1

Start in the department that stands to benefit most from an ECM system

To demonstrate as quickly as possible how an ECM solution improves and facilitates work within a company, the organization should start with the processes that will most rapidly benefit from the new enterprise content management capabilities.

For example, in sales, this is usually the offer preparation stage. When these processes are digitized step by step, this also improves the department's key performance indicators (KPIs). Of course, while this convinces the sales department of the value of the implementation, it also demonstrates the advantages that ECM can offer to other departments within the company. Employee acceptance and expectations of an ECM system increase well before the introduction in their respective department.

2

As-is analysis provides a solid foundation

As-is analysis can clarify the order in which the introduction of an enterprise content management system should take place within a company. To do this, you should ideally appoint an upper-level manager to seek feedback from all departments in order to find out which weak points need to be addressed.

This person maintains a high-level overview throughout the entire implementation process and incorporates current scenarios as well as potential future challenges into all considerations. It is especially important to integrate all stakeholders into the as-is analysis to avoid user resistance further down the road. Your team will only be receptive to the new technology when the needs and suggestions of employees are taken seriously and it becomes clear where the advantages lie.

For many companies, as-is analysis shows that accounting is an ideal starting point for a planned introduction of ECM. Once your organization gets executive buy-in for the idea, ECM typically offers the greatest potential for improvement since accelerated invoice processing has a direct impact on the profitability of the company affected by the implementation.

3

Define the goals of adopting ECM and identify advantages

Once you've determined the departments in which you want to start with the introduction of ECM, the next step is to define clear and measurable goals. Ask yourself which areas present the biggest challenges and specify exactly what it is intended to improve in the future. It’s important that you don’t limit yourself to vague goals such as "more efficiency", but really go into detail in your goal definition.

Should the number of order confirmations sent within a certain timeframe increase by a certain percentage? Do you hope that ECM will measurably shorten the duration of invoice processing? Formulate your expectations as clearly as possible and then communicate them to the entire team. In this way, you ensure that each employee knows what is expected of him or her – and you’ll avoid nasty surprises later on when reviewing the progress of your goals.

If you establish clear metrics, such as the rate at which pre- and post-deployment quotes are sent out, no one can blame what has actually been achieved since subjective impressions are replaced by objective facts.

4

Choose an ECM provider that looks to the future

The selection of ECM software requires significant research and investment. Should software be chosen that has been successfully established in the market for years, or, in light of prospective future challenges, are new and innovative ECM solutions the right choice?

As is so often the case, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. On one hand, a large installed base is the best proof that software has proven itself in the real world. But on the other, the enterprise content management solution selected must also be modern enough to reliably accompany your business through the next 10 to 15 years.

If you want to be on the safe side when choosing ECM software, take a close look at the corporate histories of the various ECM providers and find out about other customers’ experiences. Trusted vendors make a name for themselves by always providing their customers with new upgrades – in a straightforward and affordable way.

Certifications are also helpful in finding the right product. For example, DIN ISO 9001 certification confirms that an ECM provider systematically improves the features or security of its product. This proves that it is continuously evolving.

Another point to consider when choosing the right ECM software is its scalability. If this condition is met, you can – as already recommended – start with just a few users and then expand the implementation bit by bit. Equally important: ensuring easy support for technologies already in use in your organization, as well as possible migration of local solutions to the cloud.

The better your overview of eventualities, the lower the risk of an unforeseen explosion in cost. Therefore, clarify exactly what the financial terms for installation, operating expenses, training and upgrades will look like in order to avoid additional costs right from the outset.

5

Configuration of the ECM solution

As soon as you begin your implementation, connect your chosen enterprise content management solution to your organization's email infrastructure and users' mobile devices. After all, one of the biggest advantages of electronic document management is that all authorized employees can easily access important information at any time, regardless of whether they are in the office, at the customer, or in their home office.

It’s equally important that you define digital workflows in order to streamline processes and accelerate critical steps. However, don't overwhelm your employees. The increasing digitization of the working world is not looked upon favorably by everyone, and careful and considerate change management is necessary to evolve not just how an organization works, but the acceptance of that new reality.

Focus on basic improvements to start and don’t expect your team to make too many changes at once. The goal is usable and effective workflows that meaningfully help the team.

How does DocuWare support the introduction of ECM software?

The research, deployment and ultimate success of an ECM solution does not have to complicate the lives of employees and executives. With a clear process for customized ECM solutions, organizations can attain lasting value for their investment.

For the deployment of an enterprise content management system to actually simplify and accelerate day-to-day workflows and deliver intended value to employees, a well-structured approach is recommended.

This will vary based on the complexity of your deployment.

For example, if your organization is seeking to improve key processes within one or two narrow departments, then preconfigured cloud solutions are an ideal fit. This is especially true for invoice processing within an accounting team, or human resources teams managing employee records.

For more complex, enterprise-wide deployments of enterprise content management, DocuWare recommends six steps to help the preparation, design, deployment, acceptance and motivation to make the project a success. 

Before planning for the selection and introduction of the ECM system, the management and IT teams should thoroughly consult with all involved departments to help them understand the benefits of digitization and automation, and avoid common mistakes.

STEP 1: 

Preliminary study and familiarization

Planning is based on the determination of the as-is state of document processing within the company and all departments slated to work with the ECM system in the future. Here, discussion with employees should determine the concrete need for action, in the form of Must-Haves and Nice-to-Haves. The following applies: The more paper that piles up during day-to-day work, the greater the potential the changeover to save time and costs. 

STEP 2: 

The supplier’s solution presentation

Based on this goal formulation, DocuWare develops initial proposed solutions and presents them free of charge. All project-relevant employees and decision-makers should participate in this presentation so that everyone can jointly decide whether the presented solution is appropriate. After all, all affected parties should end up happy with the new solution.

STEP 3: 

Advance workshops on the new solution

Before the project starts, a solution workshop should be agreed on in order to create a customized offer that comes as close as possible to the project goals. This also clears up how the pre-existing stock of documents will be handled: Should the service include scanning or importing, or should this be done in-house?

STEP 4: 

Quote and purchase/lease

The next step involved in the implementation of an enterprise content management system is a concrete offer, to include binding prices. If a classic on-premises solution is planned, the offer must always include price information for ECM software, additional hardware and all services. In a cloud solution, not only the term and the lease price are important, but also termination modalities, security commitments or performance and scalability options. If you’re unable to reach a decision on using a cloud system right now, you should make sure that switching to a cloud solution is as easy as possible if the need arises. A future-ready ECM system is absolutely paramount to growing companies.

STEP 5:

ECM installation and training

An adequately trained organizer such as the IT Director should be on-site during ECM software installation to advise and assist any staff involved during initial training.

STEP 6: 

Review workshop

Once the enterprise content management system is finally up and running, DocuWare recommends a review workshop as the last step of the introductory project. About six to twelve weeks after commissioning, the provider comes back for a visit, inspects operations and follows employees as they perform their daily work. The provider can then offer direct tips that make it easier for users to work with the ECM system.

Resources

Learn more about enterprise content management

Analyst Report

New ROI research: for SMBs, content management returns $8.55 per dollar spent

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